[from a letter:]
someone says: this place is like a dream, a lucid dream, and the more you talk about it, the more it will fade from vivid memory into spoken language. be careful and aware of how much you choose to do so.
in no particular order:
climbing on a giant set of table and chairs
watching a giant (50' tall) metal woman breathe
climbing on a giant metal geodesic dome
watching a person be strapped into a rebar sphere and being rolled around
flying above black rock city in a tiny four-seater plane (pilot: "flying in a small plane like this is like ice skating; we'll skid around")
talking to chico, a native american from the southwest, about a ritual around a mountain lion that visited him on his property, which he believed to be the spirit of burning man
days later, doing an aztec dance hosted by chico, which culminated in running and jumping around in a large group with fifty other people, holding hands, dancing around hooting and laughing
riding bikes on the playa for the first wild evening and feeling the technicolor sensation of lights and sounds envelop me
giggling with a dear friend after a short and sweet hit of laughing gas
sleeping in a giant cuddle puddle with dozens of people for a few hours
waking up and pedaling out towards the deep desert in time for the sunset
in the middle of the desert, standing in line, freezing for soup, and having a stranger gift me a blanket
stumbling upon a yoga session at sunrise, and doing yoga with dozens of strangers while twenty skydivers parachuted into and past the rising sun, to the sound of a piercing violin
doing a super intimate and personal dance with a complete stranger - locking eyes with them for minutes and dancing around to the rising sun
exchanging notes and wishes for their future self, to be opened after burning man is over
dropping what I was doing to push a stalled car for strangers until it started
sleeping in a hammock camp for a few hours
giving a silent hug to a sobbing man in the temple
sitting in a barbershop chair in the deep playa, listening to soothing friendly voices coming out of a speaker
flying kites in the deep playa
handing a kite to a mother and her son while walking the path of a labyrinth and seeing them become happily joyful ("life is good", she said)
stopping for hot dogs, and getting an unexpected rune reading
bumping into a friend at center camp out of the blue
doing contact improv for the first time, to moonlight, on the 12-hour wait into black rock city
doing contact improv for the second time, in the middle of center camp, on a relaxing morning
biking through white-outs (sandstorms) where you could hardly see ten feet in front of you
watching a seven-year-old girl who was gifted a violin try to make her first sounds; seeing strangers get together to try to teach her how to play
high-fiving people biking by on the street
dancing and dancing and dancing
crawling into a sculpture and finding a tiny hidden room inside of it
talking to art-car makers about the intricacies of their practice
jumping on a giant typewriter with strangers in order to spell phrases
lying underneath a giant technicolor net listening to classical music
lying in a geodesic dome on top of other strangers watching a wild, psychedelic film
sitting and meditating with a wind-turbine, drones, and gongs
climbing a twenty-foot tall structure to jump on a trampoline twenty feet in the air
building and raising part of a geodesic dome pvc structure together with strangers/new friends
pedaling on a bicycle+snow cone machine to create snowcones
helping camp neighbors build their tent and gifting them all the things they needed
walking to the Man the first thing after we set up camp
getting my feet washed, then washing others' feet; having meaningful conversations about architecture and circus work
a cooler art car, an anglerfish art car, a shark art car -- all of the art cars
going to a japanese rope bondage workshop
going to a series of science talks about holographic black holes and high-level abstract mathematics
watching a hydrogen blimp fight, in which the losing blimp gets lit on fire, hindenburg-esque
watching fire dancers and spinners twirl flaming chunks of kerosene past their bodies
eating pickles and dancing to soul and funk at 5am, having run into a friend
playing on a drum kit in which the shouts of children was the sound of the drum
a fire breathing dragon
ringing a gong made out of bicycle wheels
being accosted by the tutu police on tutu tuesday for not wearing a tutu / wearing too many clothes
the gentle hilarity of a a scrubby bubbles art car
an icebox/cooler art car
a desert island art car, complete with palm trees
a soup can and cracker box in the deep playa
a sign saying "private sign - do not read"
wandering into someone's camp and falling asleep there
watching lamplighters ceremoniously light a path from the Man to the Temple
writing a note on the Temple for a friend who passed away in 2014, to be burned with the eulogies and desires of many others
watching people dance over and around the coals and ashes of the Man
watching a mechanical arm-tank grab a bicycle parked in the middle of the street and crush/demolish it to pieces
a fire-breathing octopus art car
a golden toilet in deep playa surrounded by fluttering black straps
playing with poi
sharing snacks with everyone
talking to the woman whose college daughter didn't want to come and whose passion is music
talking to phi whose passion is coaching and education and who found it in sales
sleeping in fc, the poly camp
helping people put up hexayurts
giving cash to israelis for coffee; having them gift extra coffee to others
deep oxytocin hugs in the sunrise
biking with home sitting on th cross bar
talking about architecture with bo while running around on the playa
watching a giant pendulum trace fire trails in the ground
talking to a pink-haired girl about the joys of fire and creation
talking in a diner in reno about our expectations and desires
huddling in a group about desires for our burn, exchanging thanks for spending it with each other
talking to the angels of the playa and witnessing a surprise blessing to adrienne
finding bo sleeping at hushville; running into mikki and waking bo up, then sitting to talk and chat and catch up
chatting up an absolutely gorgeous cute woman at the blimp fight
a cat art car with hundreds of floating balloon lights as its tail
people on stilts, walking by here and there
capoieira backflips on a sunrise playa, shane right
chatting with an asian american politician - e. m. about land use and land trusts post aztec dance
baby wipe / wet towel showers
watching the temple burn, in silence, and hearing collective gasps
The taste in my mouth I am trying to describe is the sensation of the playa, at some ungodly hour, where everyone is either dancing wildly or searching in a hovering, dazed state for some place to crawl up and sleep into. the night is chilly, and half-active. It's as if each party full of dancing bodies creates these spheres of activity or presence in which, for those within its power, time pauses, stretches out, holds still. when you're inside the sphere, energy is infinite, the nightscape and the moon and the bright stars withdraw away, and nothing remains but the music and your body and the bodies of others, in one collective celebratory mass.
at this night, however, these spheres remain but are just shrunken in size, withdrawn, dotting the landscape of the playa like little isolated worlds of activity. I know that, if I chose to do so at any moment, I could bike out there and plunge into another world, or another, all wholly different from each other.
tonight, however, these spheres are tiny and distant, and it feels like the night bears itself down with full force. those spheres like small warm living rooms on a winter night, but between them is just myself and my thoughts, laid bare with nothing but the impossibly burningly bright moon and stars to hold witness.
so I wander a little bit. the playa feels rushed a little, like everyone's hurrying towards shelter and sleep, maslow's hierarchy of needs finally coming into play. nearby, at a camp called pink heart, I wander into a main tent of a cuddle pile, full of twenty or thirty other people in various states of sleep. I find a corner, settle in for the night. the sensation I'm feeling is of the 'provisional', or 'temporary', or 'necessary', a kind of soft urgency without danger, maybe more of a plodding magnetism, like the kind that calls you towards your bed in the evenings at the end of a long, long, day.
In a few hours, I wake up half-cuddled next to someone else, my face buried in his/her white fluffy coat. I stumble out, bleary-eyed, tumble onto my bicycle, start racing towards the deep desert playa underneath a greyish-pink sky
at the edge of the universe, there is a small shack. with a few other people, you stand in line for soup, or cider. you freeze, shivering, as it's almost near freezing. someone runs up to you and asks, almost demandingly, if you are cold. and as you nod without thinking and say, well, yes..., they shove a wool blanket into your hands and run off.
suddenly, your friends walk by, even though it's an hour's walk from camp, serendipitously, because this is burning man.
your hugs are extra long and full of extra warmth. together, you watch the sun rise, slowly, jamming hands into pockets and braving the desert chill. the sun is unbelievable, an image, too beautiful to behold, almost, not even worth describing with adjectives, adverbs, or anything other than dead fact:
there is a sun. it rises above a desert. there is nothing else in the desert other than miles of dust. right now, there is a sun in the shape of a half-circle, bisected by the horizon. before it was dark and cold. now, your face, like everyone else's face, is warm and glowing.
an art car in the shape of a giant spaceship nearby amplifies a violin's slow cry onto the landscape. the performer's mother, it turns out, just passed away from cancer. to the violin's mournful aching drone, dozens of people stand, stretching their body to respect the world. suddenly, you look up: ten, twenty skydivers parachute from the sky, fluttering down effortlessly, and coasting onto the playa dust on some sunrise morning so gloriously fresh and newborn that it feels like the new year.
and then: you hold hands and dance with a stranger, eyes locked together, boring into your soul. and then: you meet a friend's friend, share a long hug with her that feels like weeks, in which you listen to each others' breathing, inhale together, exhale in unison. you imagine this place a as a lucid dream. you watch new friends do goodbye backflips to each other. you bike back alone.
oh, a. I am too exhausted to be able to write everything down; I am a dry sponge that has soaked up so much of this world that I am now unable to distinguish between experience and self, unable to articulate stories because they all approached me as one spectacular mindbending euphoric encounter. I don't know how to explain what it feels like to high-five strangers and hug for every introduction; for serendipitous magical moments to happen continuously; for people to walk around gifting, over and over; to have the sensation of building something together, of complete and utter awe at projects and art so intricate and carefully crafted...
* * *
And now: I am back in NYC. I am well rested, after a shower, and food, and all the delights of civilization. Everything seems strange; people are dressed similarly; there are no naked people walking around, no hugs, no smiles at strangers, nobody jumping in to help you with anything.
Already it seems: did that happen? Did that week in the desert happen? Did I really fly kites in moonlight? Watch an impossibly bright and thick net of stars? Was anything over there real?
I am disoriented a little, happily tugged off kilter, and it also means that this city (and myself) seems so new.